Pastor’s Perspective- September 2018
The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community. For his purpose… is not just to save individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his own glory. –William Willimon
Everybody wants to change the world. Some of us desire to change the future of our neighbors, while others are seeking to improve our own lives. We are bombarded with programs and possibilities that promise us freedom from addiction and dysfunction; with each one offering to help us to improve our lives by transforming who we are and what we do. While some of them will help us in the short term, few of these self-help programs assist us in making the change. Why is it so hard to find true transformative power? Why is it so easy to make sincere promises, and so difficult to keep them for more than a few days at a time? Why is it that God doesn’t just cure us and make our lives ‘simple?’
Perhaps our problem stems from the fact that most of our transformative programming is aimed at the individual. Programs that deliver transformative change tend to be ones that connect a person with an intentional community that offers consistent (and sometimes unending) support. Perhaps our central problem is that we are attempting to go it alone? Perhaps the reason we are failing so frequently is that we have tried to fix ourselves without the necessary support of a Godly community?
We live in an extraordinarily individualistic culture, and in many ways American Christianity has reflected that individualism. Perhaps this is why we are so enamored with programs and therapies directed at the individual. Our ministries promise that if you read this book or listen to this podcast it will change your life; and we are changed, but only for a moment. Then the momentum shifts, and we slide back to old habits and sinful patterns. The sad truth is that we cannot accomplish anything alone. This is not Communist propaganda or political speech; this is bedrock Truth from God’s lips to our ears. Yet we ignore it. We maintain the fallacy that we can be successful alone. Worse yet we maintain the lie that we will be satisfied with lonely success.
We were never meant to be alone, and God is the first one to tell us this. That is why Adam was given a partner. Intentionally, God wasn’t enough for him. God had something greater in mind. Think about that. Imagine that you are Adam and you have been given a paradise in which to live. You are surrounded by hypoallergenic non-threatening animals and live in a perfectly controlled environment. You have intimate access with God almighty, who listens to your thoughts and encourages your growth. You can pick any food off a tree and eat to your hearts content. You are never in need or want. Why then does life feel incomplete? Why are you still empty inside and discontented?
Adam could never get beyond being the only one. There is no fun in one, if one means only. God corrects the error and creates for Adam a partner. A mate. A family. And now Adam is complete, whole. One, not in number, but in unity with another person. The first community has been created, and God said that it was good.
Adam and Eve lived in harmony in the garden of God. Free to create a family, a community, and a new society in the presence of God. All was good until that snake appeared on the scene and tempted both Eve and Adam into sin. Community is easy when the sun is shining, and our team is winning, but what happens when mistakes are made and the loses begin to pile up? What happens when sin rears its ugly head?
Sin destroys community, because a community lost in sin rarely seeks personal repentance, but instead seeks to fix the blame on another person. When Adam was alone he sought to have a partner with whom to share life, but once Adam had a partner he found it easy to blame her for all of his flaws. Adam quickly blames Eve for the sins of their community, and then for good measure takes the time to blame God.
Sin has destroyed our ability to trust in each other and has broken our relationship with God. It formed a wedge between people and God and broke the bonds of selfless love that supports our mutual activities and collective visions. Sin causes us to accuse everyone else for the things of which we should repent. Sin causes us to retreat from community because it allows us to believe that they are the problem.
Sin has broken our community with God, our world, and ourselves. The Good News of the Gospel is that God is at work seeking to restore us in all ways.
The salvation that Jesus Christ brought to this world was intended to be more than just a salvation of individuals. Jesus was sent to save US. Not only each of us as individuals, but the us that directs the Church toward community and life together. When we see salvation or achievement in individualistic terms we ignore God’s intention for our lives. We were created to be communal, to live together in harmony and love. To walk together with God. Sin separated us, not just from God, but from each other. If this is true then salvation must not only heal the rift between God and humanity, but also heal our communities and families.
It should not surprise us that the brokenness between Adam and Eve was continued with the murder of Abel by Cain. It was for this reason that God sought to restore the community of God through a covenantal family. This is the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Israel was the community through which God sought to bless the world. Community was broken and would have to heal it within a covenantal framework of love, faith, and family. It had to start with someone and God chose Abraham.
The promise to Abraham eventually and intentionally spreads into the whole world by the gift of God in Jesus Christ. When Jesus, the Son of God and a Son of Israel, brought salvation into the world, He called the whole world into union with Himself. That union also connects us together. When the Church seeks to grow people without community then we fail in the most basic way to resolve the created needs of human beings.
It is ironic that the individualistic Church is being destroyed by the very model it championed, as believers are attempting to be good individuals without the corporate Church. The problem with this is that you can’t be the body of Christ alone (Ephesians 4: 1-6). Our dying world cannot be transformed by a gaggle of motivated but individualistic Christians. We can’t be a city on the Hill without each other. We will never fulfill our mission to glorify the Son of God without walking with each other in His steps.
We can be a force for God on this earth, but only if we are willing to unite under His name and in His will. (John 17) We must inspire each other to live within God’s Law of love and encourage each other to set aside our own dark desires to proclaim the reign of God in Jesus Christ. I can be good for brief moments without you, but for me to be Godly, I need your help. This is what Jesus meant when He told us that the presence of God was with us when two or more were gathered in His name.
Pray with us as we seek God’s will. Walk with us in fellowship. Let us worship together in the fullness of God’s Spirit. Together, let us become the Church and restore community in this fractured world.